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Controversies surrounding the planned 16th Avenue mosque continue to plague Markham town hall, with the latest uproar resulting in the mayor and some residents pointing fingers at each other and losing their cool Tuesday night.
The group that has been protesting against the mosque stormed council chambers again without having made it on to the agenda — group leaders said they tried to get on the agenda with no luck.
However, Markham council fired back this time with a nine-page PowerPoint counter presentation, which wasn’t on the agenda, either.
“You continue to put out misinformation (about the mosque) and we’ll continue to put out the correct information,” Mayor Frank Scarpitti told members of the Markham Residents for Responsible Community Planning (MRRCP).
The mayor said it’s the last time he would personally support allowing the group to speak at council when the issue isn’t on the agenda.
Parking requirements and the capacity of the mosque remained two hotly contested issues during Tuesday night’s showdown.
Development services commissioner Jim Baird said he was asked by the town’s corporate communications staff to prepare a presentation in response to the MRRCP’s latest flyer.
Without stating that a mistake was made on the town’s part over incorrect wording in a town bylaw, Mr. Baird said they “immediately” dealt with an issue raised by the MRRCP group on Oct. 28, when the mayor met privately with MRRCP reps, and took it to the applicant, the Islamic Society of Markham.
The issue concerns an incorrect formula used by the town to calculate the mosque’s capacity, which can in turn be used to generate the parking requirement.
Even though the correct calculation doesn’t result in a greater number of parking spaces required here, the mosque voluntarily reduced its worship net floor area to 538.4 square metres, or about 5,795 square feet, in part because of the parking analysis issue raised by the MRRCP, Mr. Baird said.
He pointed out that the mosque didn’t have to do so, since the site plan was already approved with 188 parking spaces.
He said the actual worship area capacity, as indicated by the architect through detailed drawings, is 574 persons.
Based on the right formula, the maximum capacity is 718 persons.
At times, Mr. Baird couldn’t be heard during his presentation due to an ongoing brouhaha from residents in attendance.
Neither he, nor the town’s corporate communications director or the mayor’s office responded to Economist & Sun’s requests for clarifications before this story was published.
In an interview with the Economist & Sun last Friday, Mr. Scarpitti admitted the town has known for months that the formula it used to calculate the mosque’s capacity was inconsistent with what’s set by the Ontario Building Code, which doesn’t deal with municipal parking requirements.
While the town’s 2003 Places of Worship Study recommended dividing the net square metres by 0.75 for capacity, the wording in the town’s places of worship parking bylaw incorrectly says to “multiply” instead, Mayor Scarpitti explained.
“Unfortunately, there’s a technical error in the current bylaw,” he said.
However, the mayor said the town couldn’t “advertise it” at the time, because it didn’t want others to rush in with applications before the bylaw can be corrected — something the town is now pursuing.
The mayor denied the move as having anything to do with the group’s recent legal action, which alleges that the town’s bylaw “breaches” the Building Code Act because it calculates the assembly occupancy in a manner different than the calculation required by the Act.
MRRCP president Phil Richardson said during his deputation Tuesday that according to their calculation, the net floor area of the mosque is actually 1,980 square metres, not 1,692 square metres.
He said the total parking spaces required should be 220 and that the site plan approval process for the mosque should begin again.
“This has been an unbelievable waste of taxpayers’ time and money,” Mr. Richardson said.
He accused some members of council of having acted in bad faith.
He also said it’s “ironic” the town is using tax dollars to fight the residents group.
Mr. Richardson called Mr. Baird’s presentation “nonsense” and “a replay of what’s typically done here”. He left the meeting at the start of the presentation.
Other residents also left intermittently throughout Mr. Baird’s presentation.
One woman shouted she couldn’t listen to it anymore.“This is a lot of hogwash,” she said.
Upon exiting, Mr. Richardson was accused of running screened meetings by Mr. Scarpitti, who criticized the group for checking people’s ID and drivers’ licences at the door.
MRRCP rep Alex Hardy said the ID policy had to be initiated as a precaution after an incident at the group’s first meeting involving mosque supporters.
“I actually had to phone 911,” Mr. Hardy said.
Previously, the town hired security guards and firefighters to stand on guard when MRRCP protested in council chambers.
Mr. Hardy criticized Mr. Baird’s presentation as “more misrepresentation of numbers”.
He said the total capacity of the mosque will be more than 1,100 at its fullest.
Mr. Scarpitti said he respects differences of opinion and hopes the group would settle with the town to agree to disagree.
“I haven’t dismissed your concerns,” he said.
Councillor Colin Campbell addressed a three-hour meeting previously promised to the group. Mr. Campbell said the offer was withdrawn by Mr. Richardson. “That’s not true,” Mr. Hardy said. “It wasn’t withdrawn.”
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"The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers..."